A hilly neighborhood with stunning public parks, incredible food, and community pride, Washington Heights is special. Not only is this area full of natural beauty (it has the highest natural point in Manhattan and boasts incredible Hudson River views) and historically important (it served as a strategic defense point during the Revolutionary War), Washington Heights has long been an immigrant enclave.
As development hit the largely rural neighborhood in the early 20th century, Irish, Jewish, African American, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican communities have all called Washington Heights home. Today, a strong Latin American and Caribbean presence remains, with Washington Heights and nearby Inwood considered the most populous Dominican neighborhoods in the U.S. With this month’s release of the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical In The Heights, we’ve put together a guide of must-visit places in Washington Heights, from Manhattan’s oldest home to the city’s only underground street, with stops for roasted chicken and chicharrón along the way.
Start planning your visit
All renderings courtesy of OTJ Architects
Jersey City has reached a $72 million deal with the operator of the Prudential Center to transform the historic Loew’s Wonder Theatre into a modern 3,300-seat venue. Mayor Steven Fulop on Monday announced a partnership with Devils Arena Entertainment to renovate the nearly 100-year-old theater that once operated as an opulent entertainment destination when it opened in 1929 and was nearly demolished in the 1980s, but was saved by a grassroots preservation effort. The city sees the restoration of Loew’s as part of a broader revitalization of the transit-friendly Journal Square neighborhood, where multiple mixed-use towers are in the works.
All photos taken by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft.
The historic Loew’s Wonder Theatre in Jersey City is finally set to receive the restoration it’s waited years for. Built in 1929 by architect George Rapp in a gilded, Baroque-Rococo style, the Loew’s Jersey was as a lavish entertainment destination for decades, until it was converted to a triplex movie theater in the ’70s and almost faced the wrecking ball in the ’80s. But through a grassroots preservation effort, the city bought the theater in 1987, allowing the nonprofit Friends of the Loew’s to begin restoration and operate as a nonprofit arts center. Though the group has made incredible progress, a significant amount of work remains. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop is searching for a commercial operator to help with the $40 million restoration and modernization effort of the 3,000-seat theater.
Earlier this year, 6sqft got an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour at the majestic Loew’s Jersey City Theatre, as well as the United Palace Theatre in Washington Heights. In 2016, we joined Untapped Cities and NYCEDC on a tour of Brooklyn Kings Theatre, and just last month, as part of Untapped Cities Insider’s Tours, we were lucky enough to tour and photograph the former Loew’s Valencia Theatre on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, which is now home to the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People church.
The majestic Loew’s Valencia Theatre opened on Saturday, January 12, 1929, as the first, largest, and most famous of the five flagship Loew’s “Wonder” Theatres established in the New York City area from 1929-30. All of the grand movie palaces were built by Marcus Loew of the Loew’s Theatres chain to establish the firm as a leader in film exhibition and to simultaneously serve as a fantastical yet affordable escape for people of all classes from the tedium and anxieties of their daily lives. The Valencia most definitely did not shy away from this fantastical approach, with its Spanish/Mexican Baroque architecture, gilded ornamentation, rich jewel-tone colors, and elaborate carvings.
Take the grand tour
Earlier this year, 6sqft got an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour at the Loew’s Jersey City, one of the five opulent Loew’s Wonder Theatres built in 1929-30 around the NYC area. We’ve now gotten a tour of another, the United Palace in Washington Heights. Originally known as the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre, the “Cambodian neo-Classical” landmark has served as a church and cultural center since it closed in 1969 and was purchased by televangelist Reverend Ike, who renamed it the Palace Cathedral. Today it’s still owned by late Reverend’s church but functions as a spiritual center and arts center.
Thanks to Reverand Ike and his church’s continued stewardship, Manhattan’s fourth-largest theater remains virtually unchanged since architect Thomas W. Lamb completed it in 1930. 6sqft recently visited and saw everything from the insane ornamentation in the lobby to the former smoking lounge that recently caught the eye of Woody Allen. We also chatted with UPCA’s executive director Mike Fitelson about why this space is truly one-of-a-kind.
Take the incredible digital tour
“The wealthy rub elbows with the poor — and are better for this contact,” said architect George Rapp of his Loew’s Jersey and Kings Theatres–two of the five Loew’s Wonder Theatres built in 1929-30 around the NYC area. The over-the-top, opulent movie palaces were built by the Loew’s Corporation not only to establish their stature in the film world but to be an escape for people from all walks of life. This held true during the Great Depression and World War II, but by the time the mid-60s hit and middle-class families began relocating to the suburbs where megaplexes were all the rage, the Wonder Theatres fell out of fashion.
Amazingly, though, all five still stand today, each with their own unique preservation tale and evolution. The Loew’s Jersey, located in the bustling Jersey City hub of Journal Square, has perhaps the most grassroots story. After closing in 1987, the building was slated for demolition, but a group of local residents banded together to save the historic theater. They collected 10,000 petition signatures and attended countless City Council meetings, and finally, in 1993, the city agreed to buy the theater for $325,000 and allow the newly formed Friends of the Loew’s to operate there as a nonprofit arts and entertainment center and embark on a restoration effort. Twenty-five years later, the theater is almost entirely returned to its original state and offers a robust roster of films, concerts, children’s programs, and more.
6sqft recently had the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Loew’s Jersey Theatre with executive director Colin Egan to learn about its amazing evolution and photograph its gilded beauty.
Take a tour of this one-of-a-kind historic gem
- This video by the Office of NYCMedia takes us inside the city’s five Loew’s Wonder Theatres. [Untapped]
- Get your kicks this summer at the Brooklyn Museum with a new “Sneaker Culture” exhibit. [DNAinfo]
- Here’s the oldest film showing NYC being destroyed by a monster. [Gothamist]
- Check out this video about the inspirational art inside One World Trade Center‘s lobby. [CBS]
- Hear from one New Yorker who’s on a quest to Instagram the city’s best building numbers. [Curbed]
- The children who defied the rules to play in the snow on Capitol Hill. [Atlantic]
Images: Loew’s Kings Theatre © Matt Lambros for After the Final Curtain (L); Building numbers © Will Sharon (R)
After nearly four decades of sitting vacant, the majestic Loew’s Kings Theatre in Flatbush will reopen. It was announced in 2010 that the 1920s movie palace would be restored to its former gilded glory thanks to a $70 million renovation, and now it’s been revealed that the reopening will take place in January 2015.
The theatre closed in 1977, but according to a press release, the new Loew’s Kings Theatre “will serve as both a cultural and economic cornerstone for the Brooklyn community, presenting more than 200 performances annually—including music, dance, theatre, and comedy—providing a resource to foster and support creativity in the area, creating jobs and attracting thousands of visitors to the neighborhood.” It will also have 3,000 seats, making it the largest theatre in Brooklyn.
Take a look at the stunning, historic interiors